Weekends in Rwanda

My friend called me the other day and was very sympathetic, thinking how bored I must be at night and during the weekends. If you recall, I’ve been in Rwanda for about 3 weeks, and I didn’t know anyone when I was coming here. She thought by now I’d have finished all my movies and series (I have about 500GB worth of stuff to watch) plus I brought a number of novels. Wrong. I’ve only managed to finish one book so far, 2 or 3 movies and maybe one or two series.

I leave work around 5p.m. but remain at the office to surf and read blogs, you know the drill, tweeting all the while. Then I head home and read about 2 pages of my book, have supper and by 9p.m. am feeling sleepy already. If am lucky, I have the energy to read another page of the book I’m currently reading or perhaps watch one episode of 90210. That’s some American high school drama series.

Weekends: mornings I may sleep in or go to the tennis court, where I miss more balls than I hit. I stay there for one hour, playing for half and resting the other half of the hour. Then afternoons I may go visit a co-worker at their home (you know, tea, sugar, bread kind of visits that usually occur at around lunchtime. The timing is not a coincidence.)

This past weekend, I was invited to go visit an island on a lake near here. A friend of a friend of a friend bought the island on Lake Burera and we were going to see it. We carried a little food for a cookout/picnic.

 

Lake Burera

Lake Burera. Image from tomallen3.blogspot.com

The occupants of the tiny island were bought off (a little sad) so when we scrambled round the island, we found abandoned houses where they used to live. Their crops are still intact so they do come round to harvest them. There are also some birds on the island. The East Africa crested crowns.

east-African-Crowned-Crane

Photo by Mahdi Kazzazi. 

 

The owner of the island has not officially started living there but there was one house where he had built discernible path. There, we left our bags and took a walk around the island, getting lost in some maize plots and emerging unscathed except for some blackjacks. You know, those plants with black ‘seeds’ that cling to your clothes?

The view was magnificent…and if you got the house at the highest point on the island, the view was panoramic. The sun shone on the water and you can only imagine the spectacular sunrises and sunsets that will be witnessed there. Hope I get another invite when he finally builds a gazebo and has a fridge full of cold drinks.

We were starting to feel hungry, since some of us helped to row the boat….it was of the most basic kind, which took us about 20min to get to the island. Someone went and brought maize from the farm and guess what? Some of the guys ate it raw! I shook my head and took the rest to be roasted…..then we had roasted maize and beer as we waited for the meat to cook.

Then we had ourselves some boiled matoke, bread and meat and beer for lunch.

I took a short swim, so cool and refreshing but it began getting cold and as we were leaving in the afternoon, the rain caught up with us just as we stepped out of the boat onto the mainland.

All About Mountain Gorillas

If you ever have the opportunity to look into the eyes of a gorilla, you will instinctively know that that these unique creatures deserve our efforts to save them - Howard G. Buffet, Threatened Kingdom: The Story of the mountain gorilla

 

A gorilla mother

A gorilla mother

I cannot begin to explain just how true that statement is.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. I was with a colleague, Valerie and my boss Julie.

We were at the park headquarters by 7am, the required time. From there, you are divided into groups and told which group of gorillas you will visit.

Gorillas are divided into two broad categories, mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas. Their names are explanatory, it’s where they live. The mountain gorillas are an endangered group, there are only about 700 mountain gorillas in the whole wide world! Imagine that. There are about 10billion people (or thereof) and only 700 of these gorillas.

They eat a lot; an adult mountain gorilla can weigh up to 250Kg. They survive on bamboo and vegetation found in forests, and we all know how everyday, forests are being cleared for farming, and trees are cut down for charcoal, firewood etc. This is the reason why conserving these forests is so important to animals that live there.

Did you know that a mountain gorilla can survive for a whole year without drinking water? That’s because the vegetation they eat contains a lot of water.

The mountain gorillas can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. These three countries coordinate their conservation efforts and the results have been significant. The number of mountain gorillas has been slowly increasing.

Gorillas live in families (or groups) and there are trackers that keep track of where each family is. So that morning, we were to visit the Amahoro family. Amahoro means peace. Our guide, Hope (that’s his name!) talked to the trackers via a 2-way radio as we trekked through the forest, going higher and higher up the mountains.

The forest was dense but there was a beaten path which we followed. The narrow path was blocked here and there by bushes, including sting nettles (you know those plants that sting?) Gorillas eat that, and even in the Czech Republic, they are eaten as vegetables.

A gorilla family is led by a large male, consists of a few other males, many females and a number of children. All the females belong to the lead male, so usually the other subordinate males leave the group to start their own families. Males mature around the age of 10-12, and the fur on their back turns silver. Hence they are known as the silverbacks. Females don’t turn silver though.

A silverback, Kajolite. I think that was his name. He lost a hand to snares in the Congo when he was young. He is the second in command of the Amahoro group.

A silverback, Kajolite. I think that was his name. He lost a hand to snares in the Congo when he was young. He is the second in command of the Amahoro group.

A newborn gorillas weighs just 1.4 to 2Kgs, half of the weight of a human at birth. They are totally dependent on the mother and begins to crawl at about 2 months of age and at 4 months, it will begin riding on its mother’s back.

 

baby gorilla

A baby mama and baby gorilla. Saw them with my own eyes, they passed by so close to us. They’re really gentle beasts.

Young gorillas, between the ages of 3 and 4, are very playful. “They are little balls of black fur with punk rock hairdos and perpetually astonished expressions..” to quote from the book, Threatened Kingdom: The story of the mountain gorilla by Buffet/IGCP. They are called juveniles and play tag, wrestle and tickle while the males guard the family against danger and the females take care of young ones.

On Saturday, the juveniles kept rolling and rolling towards where we were, and we couldn’t move away fast enough! I remember I fell down and landed right next to them (we are encouraged to keep a distance of 7m, so as not to transmit any diseases to them.) I moved away slowly.

I was told however, that these were tourist gorillas. They are so used to people and clicking cameras, they acted as if we weren’t there. The juveniles though, did were curious and would stop wrestling each other to stare at us and then they’d lie in the grass and stretch out and bask in the lovely morning sunlight.

 

juvenile gorillas

A group of juveniles takes a break from wrestling and rolling around in the bush to bask in the sun. They were such a joy to watch.

 

The trek down the mountainside was easier…we were coming down following a familiar path. There was a park warden who walked with us, carrying a gun, in case we met any hostile forest elephants or buffaloes. We didn’t, though we saw here and there fresh buffalo dung.

There are also other animals that live in the forests; like the Bushbuck but we were not lucky to see any. We only spent an hour with the gorillas as per regulations and trekked back down the mountain.

Watching these gorillas was worth every penny. It’s 500 USD for foreigners, 200 USD for East Africans and 40USD for Rwandans.

P.S. All photos courtesy of Art of Conservation

Picture Story: A Look Into My Life

In case you are wondering, what am I doing in Rwanda? Do I have rich parents who decided to give me touring money to visit East Africa? Did I save enough to just come lounge in Rwanda? Am I working here, and if so, how did I get the job?

Well, am working here in Rwanda, with an organisation called Art of Conservation.. How I knew about the job? Believe it or not, through twitter. I know a tweep who knows the directors and when I told him I want to work in Rwanda, he provided me with a link to the organization. I checked it out and decided to apply for the job. How I got the job? Well, through my own merit. See, knowing about a job and getting it are two different things.

Anyway, I’ve been here almost two weeks and I like working here. I’m an administrative intern, which means I do most of the paperwork and blogging sometimes. This organization teaches kids about conservation and health through art.

A typical day for me begins around 6:30 am when I wake and take breakfast at the guest house where I stay. Here’s some photos of the room that is my residence:

 

My bed with the bedside lamp

My bed with the bedside lamp

Of course you may want to see my bathroom too; am just guessing so here you go:

 

bathroomThis is where I keep my toiletries and such:

 

 toiletries shelf


toiletries shelf

Okay, now to the table where I sometimes pretend to sit and learn French.

My not-so-tidy table where I sit and pretend to learn French

My not-so-tidy table where I sit and pretend to learn French

I spend my nights watching series and reading novels. Here’s my library so far:

 

My micro-mini library

My micro-mini library

And lastly, a view of the outside from my room:

A view of the outside from my door

A view of the outside from my door

Rwanda: The Positives

My last post on Rwanda had an error of omission, I only wrote about the things that bother me about this country but not what I love and I was reminded by a couple of readers. So here goes what’s good about Rwanda: Disclaimer: This is in no way an accurate guide to Rwanda. This is entirely subjective and based on my experiences here so far. The first thing I love about this country is it’s cleanness. I’ve never seen a cleaner EA country, never mind I’ve only been to Uganda and of course Kenya (of which am a citizen). They do not allow polythene bags in the country and as such there are no roadside eyesores that continue to rustle and float around in the wind. Yesterday, I finally saw Kigali in daylight and it’s manicured roads and pedicured sidewalks. With flowers, trees and that beautiful roundabout with a fountain in the middle. Wish I had carried a camera but maybe I can google a pic:

Kigali Fountain

The fountain at the Kigali roundabout. It’s beautiful

The second good thing about this country is its beauty. Oh I know, we say Kenya is beautiful, but Kenya is diverse. Some parts are beautiful and some parts you may not want to go. But Rwanda is made up of thousands (possibly) of hills and mountains. The roads wind up and down the hills and valleys and the views are breathtaking. The mountain gorillas can only be found in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo: at the national park that the three countries share though it’s called different names in the different countries.

 

Rwanda Countryside

Most of Rwanda’s countryside looks like this

The third thing is security. You can walk around at any time of the night, something you cannot do in Kenya. There are army patrols, police patrols and community security patrols. They do not harass ordinary citizens as they walk around at night, the way sometimes in Kenya the police can rough you up, ask you for ID and a bribe, or just a bribe outright. Another thing is Rwandans’ obedience to traffic laws and general rules of law. Kenya has to be one of the worst places to drive in, nobody follows traffic rules, not even pedestrians. Boda boda (motorbike) operators do not have helmets for themselves, let alone for their passengers. Here in Rwanda, it’s a rule to have a helmet both for the passenger and for the driver (cycler?) Lest I forget the friendliness of the people I have met so far. From the guest house where I live to the AoC place of work, from Volcana Lounge where I sometimes hang out playing pool to the market where I shopped. There is no hostility or impatience that you find so common in Nairobi. In terms of development, I’d say Rwanda is ripe for it. They have a Rwanda Development Boards that oversees all areas of development including conservation of the environment. Registering a business should not take you long and am sure they’ll proved you with all the information you need. The roads are fairly smooth and wherever they are starting to wear off, I’m seeing repair works going on (always a Chinese guy in charge, just like in Kenya).

Lowland gorilla

A low-land gorilla resting. He/she is actually in an orphanage which I visited recently at Kinigi, near the Volcanoes National Park